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The World on Edge

To Have and to Have Not in a World of Inequality

February 12th 2015

At an event in Beijing last November, I had the good fortune to meet the French economist Thomas Piketty, who has sold 1.5 million copies of his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, since it was first published in 2013. Pacing up and down in front of a packed auditorium, Piketty explained that because the rate of return on capital is now higher than the growth rate of the global economy, the proportion of the world's wealth that is owned by a small elite will likely keep increasing; in other words, we should expect to see a divergence of wealth as the rich get much richer. As his book says, "capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based."

No strategic forecaster can afford to ignore this alarming prediction — or the enthusiastic response it got from the audience in Beijing. In the 20th century, the two world wars were the only force powerful enough to reverse the concentration of wealth in the elite and the mounting class conflict; in the 21st century, we seem to be falling back into a comparable world of revolution, political extremism and mass violence. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Beware the Ides of March

February 7th 2015

Israeli flag and clouds

March 2015 is looking like it is going to be a very "interesting" month, to quote the well-known Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times".

First, Prime Minister Netanyahu will address the joint houses of Congress while he is in Washington to attend the annual AIPAC meeting.

Second, on the 17th, the elections take place in Israel. At this point they are entirely unpredictable as the maneuvering and jockeying proceed on what seems like an hourly basis...

Third, one week later, the 24th, is the latest "deadline" to reach an agreement between the six powers and Iran on the Iranian program to develop the ability to produce nuclear weapons. 

The prime minister, John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Obama are engaged in a three-way political dance, each trying to gain political advantage from the impending address. Which will gain more from this exercise is not clear. Indeed, it is not clear that there will be any winner politically. Certainly relations between Israel and the Obama Administration, already bad have been getting worse and will continue to do so at a particularly crucial time. Read more ..

South of the Border

Alliance for Prosperity: A Step in the Right Direction for Central America?

January 28th 2015

The Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, are often characterized by poverty and violence. With limited economic opportunities and individual security threatened by gang and drug violence, many citizens have opted to migrate north towards opportunity and safety.

An unprecedented number of migrants from Central America, including an increase in unaccompanied minors traveling north beginning in 2009 from an estimated 20,000 to over 50,000, have raised security and human rights concerns in the involved countries. These issues are not only pertinent to the United States and Mexico, but have had serious consequences in the Northern Triangle, which continues to suffer a significant human capital flight. An estimated 9 percent of the total Northern Triangle population has emigrated in recent years, with about 100,000 migrating to the United States yearly and 60 percent remaining as undocumented persons. Read more ..

The War on Terror

After #JeSuisCharlie how do We Deal with the Muslim World?

January 22nd 2015

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What is left after the viral and global outrage that led millions of people to the streets to express their identification with the victims of the massacre in Paris? The urgency to take the necessary steps to understand Islam and the radical challenge it poses to the West.

Clear, impacting, sensational. So must be in terrorist’s mind the message connected to his actions. He/she has no time to lose, he/she must obtain the most spectacular effect reaching as many targets as possible: hit the enemy, obtain a victory and this way glorify God. He/she wants to reach heaven, the reward for his/her courage.

What about the collateral damage, the innocent victims left on the ground? They're not a problem, because, above all, it is the intention of the action of the Jihadist that wins: affirm the truth of God eliminating the unfaithful. In this project the ‘communicative’ question is of the maximum importance for the global radical Islamic terrorists.

This is demonstrated by their online magazines, websites, videos-releases which they spread, their skill in the use of social media, ideal places for recruiting new militants. And perhaps, with this ‘media sensitivity’ view, you can also understand the target chosen last 7 January, a target capable of provoking a global reaction like the one recorded by the principal Western newspapers: break into the newsroom of a weekly, when the editorial meeting is taking place and everybody is present and make a killing. Killing the signatures of a newspaper well-known (and even threatened) for its corrosive, controversial and debated satire in France, but also defended as a symbol of freedom of expression, the pride of French laicité. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

The European Union, Nationalism and the Crisis of Europe

January 20th 2015

Euro money

European media has been flooded for the past week with leaks about the European Central Bank's forthcoming plan to stimulate the faltering European economy by implementing quantitative easing. First carried by Der Spiegel and then picked up by other media, the story has not been denied by anyone at the bank nor any senior European official. We can therefore call this an official leak, because it lets everyone know what is coming before an official announcement is made later in the week.

The plan is an attempt to spur economic activity in Europe by increasing the amount of money available. It calls for governments to increase their borrowing for various projects designed to increase growth and decrease unemployment. Rather than selling the bonds on the open market, a move that would trigger a rise in interest rates, the bonds are sold to the central banks of eurozone member states, which have the ability to print new money. The money is then sent to the treasury. With more money flowing through the system, recessions driven by a lack of capital are relieved. This is why the measure is called quantitative easing. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Senate Republicans Shift Away from Obamacare Repeal

January 16th 2015

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Republicans are shifting their tactics on ObamaCare, an abrupt change from the party’s “repeal-only” rhetoric that dominated the last five years of debate.

The GOP is coalescing around the idea that incremental changes, rather than a sweeping repeal effort, can be more appealing to voters – while also holding out the possibility of hollowing out the law from within.

In the past, some conservatives objected to any ObamaCare bills that fell short of full repeal. They argued it was impossible to fix the flawed legislation by doing anything other than fully repealing it.
No more.

When the newly GOP-controlled Senate votes on its first anti-ObamaCare legislation in the next few weeks, none of its members is expected to block the bills, according to aides and lobbyists familiar with discussions.

“I’m guessing that they’ve had this ‘squirrel finds a nut’ moment of reasonableness,” one Senate GOP aide said.

The GOP remains far from consensus on how to handle the law, but threats from the party’s far-right members have largely faded as members look to show a GOP Congress can govern ahead of 2016, when the party hopes to retake the White House.

“If we can show that we can lead, we might get an even bigger majority in 2016. We might get the White House,” the Republican aide said. “Republicans can say, ‘See, we were right? Put us in charge, and we’ll repeal the whole damn thing.’” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Veto Battles Set to Begin

January 12th 2015

Obama with baseball bat

This could be the year of the veto for President Obama.

The White House and congressional Republicans are already in a pitched battle, less than a week into the 114th Congress.

Republicans are itching for a fight, eager to exploit their new control of the Senate to chip away at some of the president’s signature policy initiatives.

They believe a flurry of vetoes could bolster their argument that it’s Obama who is the real obstructionist in Washington — not congressional Republicans. Obama has been insulated up until now, with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blocking GOP-backed bills unpopular with Democrats — and so removing the need for Obama to pick up his veto pen. Read more ..

Broken Government

Republican Senators Reaching Out to Key Democrats

January 7th 2015

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Senate Republicans are reaching out to about nine Democrats they see as crucial swing votes in the new Congress.

With his 54-seat majority, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is six votes short of overcoming Democratic filibusters, making bipartisan support a necessity for getting most legislation to President Obama’s desk.

Republicans have identified six go-to centrists: Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Warner (Va.), Tim Kaine (Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats.

Several other Democrats, including Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Chris Coons (Del.), Tom Carper (Del.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.), are also targets, though they are seen as riskier partners. Read more ..

America and Israel

Can Obama Swing Israeli Election away from Netanyahu?

January 3rd 2015

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Most Israelis do not think the rise of Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS makes this a great time to sign an agreement requiring the Israel Defense Force to leave the West Bank.

When Israel's former Prime Minister pulled every soldier and every settler out of Gaza in 2005, what happened after that withdrawal was the opposite of "land for peace." It does not inspire confidence that just signing a piece of paper will bring real peace.

The theory that friction will weaken Benjamin Netanyahu is unproven; the reverse could happen.

This is the first time since 2009 that the Obama Administration may think it has a credible opportunity to replace Benjamin Netanyahu with an Israeli government prepared to make more concessions to the Palestinians. The idea that Obama could have a more compliant partner in Jerusalem for the final eighteen months of his presidency has to excite his closest aides as they reach for achievements to crown the President's legacy. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

A View from the Inside of Putin's Russia

December 16th 2014

Last week I flew into Moscow, arriving at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 8. It gets dark in Moscow around that time, and the sun doesn't rise until about 10 a.m. at this time of the year — the so-called Black Days versus White Nights. For anyone used to life closer to the equator, this is unsettling. It is the first sign that you are not only in a foreign country, which I am used to, but also in a foreign environment. Yet as we drove toward downtown Moscow, well over an hour away, the traffic, the road work, were all commonplace. Moscow has three airports, and we flew into the farthest one from downtown, Domodedovo — the primary international airport. There is endless renovation going on in Moscow, and while it holds up traffic, it indicates that prosperity continues, at least in the capital. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Seeking the Future of Europe in the Ancient Hanseatic League

December 11th 2014

euro flags

A bargain, forged in the fires of 2012's economic emergency, has defined the European Union for the past two years. It was an agreement made between two sides that can be defined in several terms — the center and the periphery, the north and the south, the producers and the consumers — but essentially one side, led by Germany, provided finance, while the other, fronted by Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, promised change. In order to gauge this arrangement's chances of ultimately succeeding, it is important to understand what Germany was hoping to achieve with its conditional financing. The answer to that question lies in Germany's own history. 

Last week, the Governing Council of the European Central Bank's monthly meeting left financial markets feeling frustrated. Instead of announcing the beginning of a highly anticipated bond-buying program known as quantitative easing, the European Central Bank, or ECB, only slightly changed the vocabulary it used to describe its plans: "We expect" became "we intend." Pulses did not race with excitement. Read more ..

The Caliphate

Islamist Attack at Ottawa is the Tip of the Iceberg

December 2nd 2014

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My new book is entitled Hatred: Islam's War on Christianity. The day before it was published a soldier in my country of Canada was run down and killed by a convert to Islam who had wanted to travel to Syria to murder infidels but decided after the security services confiscated his passport to commit the crime closer to home.

The day after my book was published another soldier, standing guard by the war memorial in Ottawa with an unloaded gun, was also killed by a convert to Islam who had wanted to conduct slaughter in Syria.

From the bottom of my heart I wish the book was not so timely. But as grotesque as these crimes were, they are mere daily and sometimes hourly occurrences in countries where Muslims form a majority and Christians the minority. In Egypt, Pakistan, post-Saddam Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, northern Nigeria, even Indonesia and Turkey, Christians are never treated equally and are often persecuted, beaten, raped, forcibly converted, arrested, killed.

Let us take the example of just one country. Read more ..

The Caliphate

How ISIS is Re-Shaping the Mideast and the World

November 25th 2014

Nuclear talks with Iran have failed to yield an agreement, but the deadline for a deal has been extended without a hitch. What would have been a significant crisis a year ago, replete with threats and anxiety, has been handled without drama or difficulty. This new response to yet another failure to reach an accord marks a shift in the relationship between the United States and Iran, a shift that can’t be understood without first considering the massive geopolitical shifts that have taken place in the Middle East, redefining the urgency of the nuclear issue.

These shifts are rooted in the emergence of the Islamic State. Ideologically, there is little difference between the Islamic State and other radical Islamic jihadist movements. But in terms of geographical presence, the Islamic State has set itself apart from the rest. While al Qaeda might have longed to take control of a significant nation-state, it primarily remained a sparse, if widespread, terrorist organization. It held no significant territory permanently; it was a movement, not a place. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

The Lethality of De-Judaizing Jerusalem

November 21st 2014

Western Wall

As an example of what the insightful commentator Melanie Phillips referred to as a “dialogue of the demented” in her book The World Turned Upside Down, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is continuing a long tradition of attempting to de-Judaize Jerusalem by expressing his mendacious notion that, as he put it, “Jerusalem has a special flavor and taste not only in our hearts, but also in the hearts of all Arabs and Muslims and Christians,” and “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palestinian state and without it there will be no state.”

The same scholar of history who wrote a doctoral dissertation that questioned the extent and truthfulness of the Holocaust was now making his own historical claim that there had never been a Jewish presence and history in the world's holiest city. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama and the Nature of Failed Presidencies

November 18th 2014

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We do not normally comment on domestic political affairs unless they affect international affairs. However, it is necessary to consider American political affairs because they are likely to have a particular effect on international relations. We have now entered the final phase of Barack Obama's presidency, and like those of several other presidents since World War II, it is ending in what we call a state of failure. This is not a judgment on his presidency so much as on the political configuration within it and surrounding it.

The midterm elections are over, and Congress and the president are in gridlock. This in itself is not significant; presidents as popular as Dwight Eisenhower found themselves in this condition. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

The Struggle over Russia's Ominous Interior Ministry

November 13th 2014

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In recent weeks, rumors that Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev will be replaced have been circulating among Russian media and pundits who watch Moscow. Stratfor has been monitoring the Russian government's coherence and the strength of its leader, President Vladimir Putin, as the country faces a series of crises involving its faltering economy and tensions with the West over Ukraine. Although Kolokoltsev is of little consequence as a personality, the office he holds oversees one of the most powerful tools for anyone seeking political power in Russia: a significant part of the country's internal surveillance apparatus. Read more ..

The Way Ahead

What the Fall of the Berlin Wall Did and Didn't Change

November 11th 2014

Twenty-five years ago, a crowd filled with an uneasy mixture of joy and rage tore down the Berlin Wall. There was joy for the end of Germany's partition and the end of tyranny. There was rage against generations of fear. One fear was of communist oppression.

The other fear was of the threat of a war, which had loomed over Europe and Germany since 1945. One fear was moral and ideological, while the other was prudential and geopolitical. As in all defining political moments, fear and rage, ideology and geopolitics, blended together in an intoxicating mix.

Marxism's Sway

Twenty-five years later, we take for granted the moral bankruptcy of Soviet communism, along with its geopolitical weakness. It is difficult for us to remember how seductive Marxism was, and how frightening Soviet power was. For my generation, at the better universities, Marxism was not an exotic form of oriental despotism but a persuasive explanation of the world and how it worked, as well as a moral imperative that a stunning number of students and faculty were committed to. Read more ..

Islam in Europe

Football Hooligan Alliance Declares War on Islamic Radicals in Germany

November 10th 2014

Hooligans from rival football clubs have temporarily set aside their mutual hatred for each other in order to unite against a common enemy: radical Salafists who are bringing Islamic Sharia law to Germany.

After police predicted that more than 10,000 hooligans would show up at an anti-Salafist rally in Berlin, authorities cancelled the event. Similar rallies planned for Frankfurt, Hamburg and Hannover have also been banned.

Vogel, a former professional boxer who often depicts himself as the embodiment invincible Islam, is now portraying himself as a helpless and fearful victim of the football hooligans

A group of nearly 5,000 football hooligans from across Germany gathered in the western city of Cologne on October 26 to protest the spread of radical Islam in the country. Read more ..

The 2014 Vote

Outgoing Majority Leader Reid Looks to His Future in the Senate

November 7th 2014

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to confirm 50 of President Obama’s nominees and move an omnibus spending bill in a last hurrah before Democrats give up power in the Senate.

The nominees are part of a packed lame-duck schedule that Reid is furiously planning, and that will be a topic at Friday’s White House lunch meeting between Obama and congressional leaders.

Reid also wants to move a package of expiring tax provisions, the annual Defense Department authorization bill and an extension of a tax moratorium on Internet purchases in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That will be a challenge not only because of the tight schedule, but because of expected clashes between Democrats over what should be prioritized before Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) takes over the Senate’s agenda in January. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

Narrow Re-election of Rousseff confirms Brazil's Role in World Politics

November 2nd 2014

The presidential elections in Brazil on October 26 resulted in a narrow win by incumbent president Dilma Rousseff, from the Workers’ Party (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores). Her opponent, Aécio Neves from the center right Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB, Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira), was ahead in the polls by a narrow 51 to 49 percent margin until mid-October. However, as the election date approached, Rousseff took over this narrow lead with a 53-47 percent advantage in the late polls and won with a 51.6 percent support against 48.4 percent for Neves.

The campaigns run by both candidates were negative and aggressive with continuing mutual accusations of corruption. Big mainstream media tended to be on the side of Neves. This was exemplified with the early publication of the weekend issue of the weekly magazine Veja. Its cover accused president Rousseff and ex-president Lula of knowing about the on-going, major corruption scandal involving the improper use of Petrobrás funds for election campaigning. Read more ..

The 2014 Vote

Hollywood Pumps Cash to Candidates

October 31st 2014

Money Bands=Happiness

Celebrities are putting on a money-raising show, digging into their wallets in a last ditch effort to help Democrats and Republicans before Election Day. 

David Letterman, Ben Affleck, former NFL quarterback John Elway, and “Scandal’s” Shonda Rhimes were among those pitching in to help their candidates of choice with cash right before next week’s midterm elections. The donations made in this past fundraising cycle are largely being funneled to high-stakes matchups that could either keep the Senate in Democratic hands or tilt it to GOP control.

But in some cases, A-listers may be opening their checkbooks for old pals.

“Late Show” host Letterman was one of several high-profile donors to Sen. Al Franken’s reelection campaign. The Minnesota Democrat had worked to fend off Republican businessman Mike McFadden but is expected to survive.


Egypt on Edge

Egypt Creates a Buffer Zone with Gaza

October 30th 2014

Egyptian Mil. Police Alexandria

Egypt has once again sealed its Rafah border crossing abutting Gaza, declaring the closure is a response to a suicide bombing carried out October 24th in the Sinai. The bombing killed 33 Egyptian soldiers and triggered widespread national mourning in the nation of some 87 million. 

In recent days, Egyptian security forces have discovered and destroyed hundreds of additional smuggling tunnels that lace into the Sinai. Egyptian officials claim to have located and disabled more than 1,600 smuggling tunnels since Mohammed Morsi was deposed on July 3, 2013.

More than just tunnels, the Egyptian army has also begun razing homes on the Rafah border with Gaza. Reports from homeowners indicate often they only have 3 days to relocate before the bulldozers arrive. Thus far, about 800 homes have been targetted for demolition, the purpose being to create a cleared buffer zone on the Gaza border. 


Broken Banking

Building a Banking Union in Europe

October 30th 2014

Euro Symbol

The recent stress tests by the European Central Bank offered few surprises and did not cause any significant political or financial reactions in the Continent. However, these tests were only the beginning of a complex process to build a banking union in the European Union. Unlike the stress tests, the next steps in this project could create more divisions in Europe because national parliaments will be involved at a time when Euroskepticism is on the rise. More important, the stress tests will not have a particular impact on Europe's main problem: tight credit conditions for households and businesses. Without a substantial improvement in credit conditions, there cannot be a substantial economic recovery, particularly in the eurozone periphery.

The European Central Bank had two basic short-term goals for this year's stress tests. On one hand, it had to come up with a test that was tough enough to be credible after tests held in 2010 and 2011 were widely seen as too soft and lacking in credibility. On the other hand, the tests could not produce results dire enough to generate panic. The European Union is going through a phase of relative calm in financial markets, and the European Central Bank was not interested in creating a new wave of uncertainty over the future of Europe's banks.


The Way We Are

America's Wealthy are Remarkably Well-Off

October 29th 2014

Rising Sun - owned by Larry Ellison

In the supposedly classless society of the United States, the wealthiest Americans are doing remarkably well.

According to Forbes, a leading business magazine, the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans has now reached the staggering total of $2.3 trillion. This gives them an average net worth of $5.7 billion―an increase of 14 percent over the previous year.

With fortunes far beyond the dreams of past kings and potentates, these super-wealthy individuals enjoy extraordinary lifestyles. Larry Ellison, the third wealthiest man in the United States (with $50 billion, an increase of 22 percent) reportedly has “15 or so homes scattered all around the world.” Among his yachts are two exceptionally big ones, each over half as long as a football field. In fact, they’re large enough for him to play basketball while on board. If a ball bounces over the rail, Ellison has a powerboat following along to retrieve it. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Growing Disappointment with Obama's Handling of Foreign Policy

October 29th 2014

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President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism for his foreign policy, along with many other things. This is not unprecedented. Former President George W. Bush was similarly attacked. Stratfor has always maintained that the behavior of nations has much to do with the impersonal forces driving it, and little to do with the leaders who are currently passing through office. To what extent should American presidents be held accountable for events in the world, and what should they be held accountable for?

Expectations and Reality

I have always been amazed when presidents take credit for creating jobs or are blamed for high interest rates. Under our Constitution, and in practice, presidents have precious little influence on either. They cannot act without Congress or the Federal Reserve concurring, and both are outside presidential control. Nor can presidents overcome the realities of the market. They are prisoners of institutional constraints and the realities of the world. Read more ..

The 2014 Vote

With One Week to Go, Republican Confidence Builds

October 28th 2014

Vote Buttons

The final week in a two-year war for control of the Senate is going down to the wire, with Republicans confident they’ll net at least the six seats they need to gain a majority during President Obama’s final two years in office.

Republicans are all but assured of winning the open seats vacated by retiring Democrats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia and have a very good chance of ousting Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado and Louisiana.

The GOP also believes it will win an open seat in Iowa, where Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst is in a dogfight with Rep. Bruce Braley (D).

Democratic incumbent Sens. Kay Hagan and Jeanne Shaheen are polling better in North Carolina and New Hampshire, respectively, but those races aren’t sure things for the party either. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Brothers Killing Brothers - The Current Infighting Will Test al Qaeda's Brand

October 26th 2014

Syrian Sunni jihadis

Terrorists often resolve internal disputes the old-fashioned way: They kill each other.

This was demonstrated on February 22, 2014, when members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are believed to have carried out the suicide attack that killed Abu Khaled al-Suri, a founding member and leader of Ahrar al-Sham, a rival coalition of Islamist rebel groups in Syria. ISIL denied responsibility in a formal press release, and factional killings are not uncommon among Syria's rebels, but ISIL had already acquired a reputation for killing its rivals.

(In November 2013, ISIL apologized for beheading another al-Sham leader, claiming that it mistakenly thought he was a Shiite militiaman, and it has publicly announced executing rival commanders since then.) Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Americans' Short Attention Span has Generated a Shiny-Object Election

October 26th 2014

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The short-attention span generation has birthed the shiny-object election.

The theme of the 2014 midterms — to whatever extent one is discernable — has been an explosion of one crisis after another, each of which demands an enormous amount of media attention before fading for the next one.

From the Secret Service to ISIS, Ebola to immigration, mistreated veterans to Ferguson and race relations, candidates and the president have been forced to react to the controversy du jour.

Strategists and experts say the result has been bad news for Democrats, who have had a tougher time underscoring their preferred campaign messages on their party’s support for women and the middle class. Instead, each shiny object captivating a media that craves the hottest story has helped Republicans making the elections for the House and Senate all about President Obama. Read more ..

The Mideast On Edge

Sandstorm in the Middle East

October 24th 2014

Iraqi Soldiers voting

The great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun centered his understanding of history on asabiyya, which is perhaps best translated as esprit de corps mixed with the will to power. In his masterpiece, the Muqaddima, or Prolegomena, the Arab historian saw as the primary locus of asabiyya the tribe—a smaller unit than the ethnic group, and the most powerful military unit in Islamic history until the Mameluks perfected the use of slave soldiers. The concept of asabiyya is helpful in trying to understand the Middle East today, after the second Iraq war (2003-09) and the Arab Spring (2010-12) together unhinged a dying political order throughout the region.

Today, no Muslim state in the Middle East has an asabiyya that peacefully and happily binds its citizens together. Unless new organizing ideas are embraced, we are likely to see the persistence of the Islamic militancy that has shaken the region. The prognosis isn’t good, in part because of highly counterproductive American actions.


The Future of Warfare

Ebola as a Biological Weapon

October 23rd 2014

Over the past few weeks, I've had people at speaking engagements ask me if I thought the Islamic State or some other militant group is using Ebola as a biological weapon, or if such a group could do so in the future. Such questions and concerns are not surprising given the intense media hype that surrounds the disease, even though only one person has died from Ebola out of the three confirmed cases in the United States. The media hype about the threat posed by the Islamic State to the United States and the West is almost as bad. Both subjects of all this hype were combined into a tidy package on Oct. 20, when the Washington Post published an editorial by columnist Mark Thiessen in which he claimed it would be easy for a group such as the Islamic State to use Ebola in a terrorist attack. Despite Thiessen's claims, using Ebola as a biological warfare agent is much more difficult than it might appear at first blush. Read more ..

The 2014 Vote

Obama Missteps Boost GOP Chances

October 22nd 2014

Vote Buttons

Political missteps by President Obama are unnerving Democrats just two weeks before the midterm elections.

The GOP could hardly contain its glee at what it viewed as Obama’s latest mistake: his comments that voters should support red-state Democrats who “vote with me” and “have supported my agenda in Congress.”

While the remarks on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show were intended to move black voters to the polls, they bolstered GOP attacks that a vote for Michelle Nunn in Georgia or Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas is essentially a vote for Obama.

“Democrats running in the midterms have continually tried to distance themselves from Obama to no avail,” noted Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski, who said Democratic candidates should “be straight with voters about their relationship with Obama.”

The Sharpton comments were just the latest in a series of fumbles by Obama that has fueled Democratic worries the party will lose control of the Senate in the midterms. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Here We Go Again

October 15th 2014


The flames of conflict in the Middle East never go out, but in recent weeks they have been growing red hot with increasingly dangerous implications for the United States.  And President Obama is leading the United States headlong into the flames, but without a clear strategy in place that will avoid us from getting burned.  Here we go again. 

Somehow within just the last couple of weeks, the Administration evolved from inaction and utter befuddlement about what to do about Islamic State to our armed forces carrying out large-scale air bombing campaigns in both Iraq and Syria.  In a moment of unscripted honesty, President Obama told reporters during a September 4 news briefing who asked about Islamic State, “We don’t have a strategy yet.” 

That comment was a huge blunder, which made the President look like he was once again in over his head, without a solid strategy in place.  Apparently the strategy of “leading from behind” that the President championed in the past related to Libya has evolved to mean “falling behind” in terms of staying one step ahead of our country’s enemies.

Somehow, just weeks later, the White House is trying to sell the American public on the idea that we have a strategy in the Middle East to defeat groups that pose an imminent threat to our national security.  The President campaigned on a promise to withdraw our troops from Iraq, and many Middle East analysts believe that America’s swift disengagement from the country emboldened the radial Islamists who have now become entrenched in the vacuum that our withdrawal created. Read more ..

The Caliphate

Obama Should Not Expect Help from Turkey in the Fight Against ISIS

October 7th 2014

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Last week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had to zigzag between the truth that accidentally spilled out of him and Washington's pragmatism. In a speech at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Biden said: "[Turkish] President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, he is an old friend, said you were right, we let too many people through, now we are trying to seal the border."

The "people," however, whom Erdogan said Ankara had "let through" were the jihadists whom Turkey had supported with arms and money, and who have now become an international nightmare.

In other words, the U.S. vice president was publicly saying that the Turkish president had confessed to supporting terrorists.

Then Erdogan threatened: "If he [Biden] really said that, he would become history for me." Finally, a White House statement announced: "The vice president apologized for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied and facilitated the growth of ISIL or other extremists in Syria." Read more ..

The Caliphate

The Kurds, Turkey, and Iraq: the Prize and Peril of Kirkuk

October 7th 2014

In June 1919, aboard an Allied warship en route to Paris, sat Damat Ferid Pasha, the Grand Vizier of a crumbling Ottoman Empire. The elderly statesman, donning an iconic red fez and boasting an impeccably groomed mustache, held in his hands a memorandum that he was to present to the Allied powers at the Quai d'Orsay.

The negotiations on postwar reparations started five months earlier, but the Ottoman delegation was prepared to make the most of its tardy invitation to the talks. As he journeyed across the Mediterranean that summer toward the French shore, Damat Ferid mentally rehearsed the list of demands he would make to the Allied powers during his last-ditch effort to hold the empire together. Read more ..

The Ebola Pandemic

Health Officials Mum about Ebola Contagion in the United States

October 3rd 2014

Emergency Medical

Health officials are refusing to answer growing questions about their response to the first Ebola case in the United States.

Under intense questioning from reporters, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas health department and the City of Dallas repeatedly declined Thursday to provide details about the steps being taken to prevent an outbreak.

Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey, who participated in one press call Thursday, would not identify or describe the four individuals who have been quarantined due to possible exposure to Ebola. They were later referred to as "family members" at a separate press conference.

Officials confirmed that roughly 100 people are being questioned about possible exposure to the virus — up from reports of more than 80 earlier in the day. Only a "handful" likely could have caught the virus, they said, and no one but the patient is showing symptoms. Read more ..

United Kingdom on Edge

Secessionist Salmond's Legacy to Scotland is Civil War

October 2nd 2014

By a 10% majority, the inhabitants of Scotland voted No to the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" The first reaction of Alex Salmond, the leader of the Yes campaign, was to admit defeat and resign as head of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and as First Minister of the devolved Scottish government. Within a day or two, however, he began urging the minority of Yes voters to delegitimize the majority and to work for a seizure of independence in the future by any available maneuvers.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Greek Civil War (1954-1949), not to mention the whole history of Yugoslavia, showed that Europeans are as capable of treating one another vilely as Muslim fanatics in the Middle East. Some five times more Spaniards perished then than all the victims to date of the current fighting in Syria. The red terror and the white terror in Spain were as murderous as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Salmond's legacy may turn out to be the spark that kindles similar misery in Scotland. Read more ..

Germany on Edge

Germany Fights on Two Fronts to Preserve the Eurozone

September 30th 2014

Euro Symbol

The European Court of Justice announced Sept. 22 that hearings in the case against the European Central Bank's (ECB) bond-buying scheme known as Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) will begin Oct. 14. Though the process is likely to be lengthy, with a judgment not due until mid-2015, the ruling will have serious implications for Germany's relationship with the rest of the eurozone. The timing could hardly be worse, coming as an anti-euro party has recently been making strides in the German political scene, steadily undermining the government's room for maneuver.

The roots of the case go back to late 2011, when Italian and Spanish sovereign bond yields were following their Greek counterparts to sky-high levels as the markets showed that they had lost confidence in the eurozone's most troubled economies' ability to turn themselves around. By summer 2012 the situation in Europe was desperate. Bailouts had been undertaken in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, while Italy was getting dangerously close to needing one. But Italy's economy, and particularly its gargantuan levels of government debt, meant that it would be too big to receive similar treatment. In any event, the previous bailouts were not calming financial markets. Read more ..

The Caliphate

Panetta says US Paying the Price for Not Arming Syrian Rebels Earlier

September 27th 2014

IS Caliphate victory parade

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in an interview broadcast late Sunday that the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can be tied in part to President Obama’s decision not to arm moderate Syrian rebels.

“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control,” Panetta said on “60 Minutes,” reflecting on a recommendation from top administration officials in 2012 to arm the rebels against President Bashar Assad. “And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be willing to work with us in that effort.”

“I think the president's concern, and I understand it, was that he had a fear that if we started providing weapons, we wouldn't know where those weapons would wind up,” he said. “My view was, ‘You have to begin somewhere.’" Read more ..

United Kingdom on Edge

Class Divisions Influence Scotland Independence Referendum

September 17th 2014

This week the people of Scotland will take part in one of the most important events in the history of the United Kingdom, a referendum on independence.

As "Yes" and "No" campaigners race to persuade those who have not yet made up their minds, one significant factor in the possible outcome is income.

One of the best known images of Scotland is its capital city, Edinburgh, with its iconic castle and ubiquitous bagpipe players.

But Edinburgh represents Scotland in other ways, too. It is home to some of the country’s most affluent residents living alongside impoverished communities. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Rave Reviews for Wealth Building Home Loan

September 15th 2014

Home Foreclosure

The Wealth Building Home Loan (WBHL), a new approach to home finance, opened to rave reviews at the American Mortgage Conference held September 8-10.  Six leaders of national stature made favorable comments from the podium.  Lewis Ranieri, considered the "godfather" of mortgage finance, in his keynote address praised theWBHL: 

Fundamentally, what I find exciting is the wealth building nature of the product.  Anyone who knows me knows how concerned I am that too often the mortgage has been utilized as an ATM for a boat or big screen TV, as opposed to building equity; if we’re to meet the needs of Americans who desire a home, this type of SAFE experimentation will be critical.

Carol Galante, FHA commissioner, David Stevens, Mortgage Bankers Association CEO and former FHA commissioner, Joseph Smith, monitor of the National Mortgage Settlement of the State Attorneys General and Lenders, and James Lockhart, former director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency also made note of the innovative approach taken by the WBHL. Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), announced that the WBHL, which provides low-income borrowers a straight, broad highway to building wealth based on a 15-year, fully amortizing, fixed-rate loan, will be available in an initial rollout undertaken by NACA and the Bank of America within 60 days. Long-time industry observer Tom LaMalfa, in an email, stated: “In an industry in which few agree on much, there was remarkable agreement on the value of the WBHL among an array of industry leaders speaking at the AMC this week.”  Stephen Oliner (codirector of AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk) and I announced that additional WBHL pilots are in the works with lenders around the country. Read more ..

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